Video and picture gallery: Wells RNLI station launches £250,000 Shannon lifeboat appeal

The RNLI station in Wells is appealing for the public's help to raise £250,000 towards a state-of-the-art new lifeboat which will help its dedicated volunteer crew save more lives along Norfolk's coast.

The team's current Mersey-class boat Doris M Mann of Ampthill is approaching the end of her operational life after almost 25 years and 140 rescues at sea.

So an appeal has been launched to raise the money for a Shannon-class lifeboat – a faster, more advanced and more manoeuvrable new design created by the RNLI's engineers.

The new lifeboat will cost £2m, and most of the funding has already been raised nationally through legacy gifts and other fundraising activity.

But the final £250,000 needs to be raised locally during the next 18 months so that the craft can be on station and ready for action in 2016.

So the Wells crew and its managers have urged the people of Norfolk to donate cash, suggest ideas and organise events to raise money for the appeal.

Peter Rainsford, chairman of the Wells Shannon lifeboat appeal, said: 'Day in, day out, the Wells lifeboat crew volunteer to help save lives at sea.

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'But it is not just about Wells. The people who are saved here are from all over the country, and all over the world. So we are asking for help from people wherever they live.

'For the next 18 months there is chance for people to help, not just by donating, but by selling cakes or having a jumble sale or jumping off a church tower – there are so many ways that people can raise money with their club or school or community centre.'

The Shannon class lifeboat is the first all-weather lifeboat to run on water jets. It will allow the boat to operate in shallower waters than propeller-driven boats, and to be intentionally beached – a major advantage in the shallow beaches around Wells. The water jets will give the coxswain greater control when alongside other craft or casualties in the water.

It also has a maximum speed of 25 knots in fair weather – 10 knots faster than the older Mersey class.

Wells lifeboat coxswain Allen Frary said: 'It will be a sad day to lose the Mersey, as she has served us well, but this will be a great improvement.

'The biggest difference is that it is a jet boat, which is a huge advantage with the shallow beaches on this part of the coast. The technology is a huge leap forward, it is more manoeuvrable and it is 10 knots faster, which makes a huge difference. It means we can get to any casualty much quicker and that 10 knots could be the difference between life and death.'

Wells lifeboat operations manager Chris Hardy said the Shannon boat would help the crew meets the demands of Norfolk's modern nautical environment. He said: 'The Mersey class lifeboat has served us very well for the last 20 years, but technology has moved on since then and our role in the RNLI has changed considerably.

'There are wind farms now, and a lot more commercial traffic and leisure activities than when the Mersey was commissioned. The requirement now is to have an operating limit of 50 miles off shore, which is nearly double the operational range of this Mersey boat. The Shannon is capable of operating in that window, and returning at full sea speed.'

One of the Wells crew's newest recruits was also excited about the prospect of the new lifeboat. Angel Eaglen, of Northfield Avenue, hopes to complete her medical and join the crew on Saturday, her 17th birthday, before embarking on the necessary seafaring and life-saving training.

'The RNLI saves so many lives and I would love to be a part of it,' she said. 'My grandfather, my uncle and my godfather are all on the crew, so I have been brought up with it since I was born.

'Most of the time I would be asleep when they got called out, and if it did happen I was always worried about how long they were going to be out.'

As the crew prepared for a practice launch last night, a group of bikers from the Saturday Morning Club, based in North Elmham, near Dereham, arrived to hand over a £500 cheque from their most recent fundraising ride.

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